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Hyperion Records

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A Wet Night at Piccadilly Circus (1910) by Arthur Hacker (1858-1919)
Royal Academy of Arts, London
Track(s) taken from CDA66838
Recording details: September 1995
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: April 1996
Total duration: 22 minutes 16 seconds

'This disc came as quite a revelation … this eloquent new collection suggests that a radical reappraisal of Bowen's compositional achievement is long overdue … it is well-nigh impossible to imagine a more sensitive or imperious advocate for Bowen's art than Stephen Hough who responds with his customary effortless technical mastery, rapt affection and intrepid panache … my own record of the year … lovely music, criminally neglected, given irreproachably eloquent and irresistibly stylish advocacy by this consummate artist. Music-making of exquisite poise and remarkable perception … York Bowen could have no more ardent or pianistically adroit advocate’ (Gramophone)

'Few new discs of piano music match this for sheer magic: magnetic performances that come as a revelation. Vivid piano sound' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

‘Without doubt one of the most interesting and valuable piano releases of 1996 … ideal vehicles for the superlative pianism of Mr. Hough … the smaller preludes disclose the widest possible gamut of moods and colors and are couched in pianistic trappings of the first order … Hough’s performances leave absolutely nothing to be desired’ (American Record Guide)

‘Buried English gold unearthed by a brilliant treasure hunter … I can think of few other living pianists who … can play them with such persuasive advocacy and winning yet unforced charm’ (Classic CD)

'On the basis of this spectacular release, it is easy to imagine a Bowen revival, for this is deeply satisfying, richly melodic music to warm the heart of any romantic … The superb young British pianist Stephen Hough plays with bracing virtuosity and golden tone. I'm sure Hough could play scales and put together an interesting recital. In this case he applies his artistry to music of great integrity, and the result is a recorded recital of special distinction' (Fanfare, USA)

‘No other living pianist could hope to play such music with comparable richness, sensuous magic and depth of feeling. Time and again he sets the mind and senses reeling … in the final pages of the Fifth Sonata … you will, awed and bemused, admit you are in the presence of pianistic genius … Even more remarkable than such feats of strength and brilliantly controlled fury is Stephen Hough’s poetic fervour in those many pages that glance longingly over the shoulder at a bygone age … not only a musical Elysium but one of the most remarkable of all modern piano records’ (Hi-Fi News)

‘Hough plays [Fifth Piano Sonata] with barely checked emotion, leaving nothing in reserve … Bowen’s music requires a serene, lilting-like approach from the pianist to realise the subtle beauty of the piece, and Stephen Hough provides this with consummate ease … Bowen would indeed have been a remarkable pianist if he could play his works as well as Stephen Hough’ (Soundscapes, Australia)

'Ici une pyrotechnie évoquant le grand piano russe se met au service d'une harmonie subtile, richement chromatique' (Diapason, France)

'Hough evidencia unos medios técnicos espectaculares y una agilidad mecánica que la permite une extraordinaria nitidez' (Scherzo, Spain)

Piano Sonata No 5 in F minor, Op 72
composer
c1923; first published by Swan & Company in 1923; first performed by Bowen in London in January 1924

Moderato  [9'01] English
Andante semplice  [4'48]

Other recordings available for download
Danny Driver (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch

Since the Piano Sonata No 5 in F minor Op 72 was issued by Swan only a year after the Short Sonata, publication years and opus numbers may mislead us as the date of actual composition, prodigious though Bowen’s work rate was. Publication preceded the work’s first performance, given by Bowen in London in January 1924 and favourably received by audience and press alike.

The Sonata’s arresting triadic opening generates material both for the first movement, a spaciously dramatic conception with an angular melodic principal subject, and (in altered guise) for the driving rhythms of the finale. Between lies another fragile reverie whose irregular five quavers to the bar again hint at MacDowell’s lyrical artlessness in similar contexts (though one improbable precedent for a slow movement in quintuple time is Chopin’s early C minor Sonata Op 4). Bowen’s scheme as a whole might suggest an attempt to mirror Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ in entirely personal terms (the two works are in the same key and feature slow movements seemingly cowed into submission by what surrounds them). However, it is here that one finds the beginnings of an acceptable ‘fit’ for the ‘English Rachmaninov’ label. Since Bowen included in his performing repertoire some of the twelve Transcendental Études by Sergei Lyapunov (1859–1924), one wonders whether he knew Lyapunov’s powerful Sonata (also in F minor) Op 27, published by Zimmermann in 1908. There are distinct similarities between the two composers, both in the instinctive brilliance of their piano writing (recorded evidence survives of Lyapunov’s formidable virtuosity in the last of his own Études) and in their tendency to conceive primary material which, already striking in itself, somewhat resists fruitful deconstruction during sonata development sections. In view of the range of colour and texture achieved on more episodic terms by both composers, it would be mean-spirited to criticize this.

Unusual by now among his British contemporaries for coming into his own particularly in last movements, Bowen returns to compound time for an exhilarating virtuoso climax to the Sonata. Summoning greater terseness and astringency in the striking juxtaposition of unrelated triad chord formations, he vividly conveys his own enjoyment of the proceedings. Fittingly, this reminds us that he was a fastidious craftsman who would have shared Medtner’s devotion to a Platonic ideal of composition, attaching no less importance to the spiritual consolations attending its pursuit than to its consummation in performance. In this respect, as in his structural preferences, Bowen remains in a sense an innately Classical type of late-Romantic composer.

Towards the end of the Sonata occur two reminiscences of its opening, one hushed, the other (ffff grandioso) casting all caution to the winds before a storming octave peroration. The coda as a whole bears a striking resemblance to its counterpart in the Sonata Op 25 (1954) by Bernard Stevens (1916–1983), a composer comparably neglected among the ensuing generation.

from notes by Francis Pott © 2009


Other albums featuring this work
'Bowen: Piano Sonatas' (CDA67751/2)
Bowen: Piano Sonatas

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